July 16, 2010

Despicable Me

A terrific comedy for adults and kids, Despicable Me is about a single dad balancing work and parenting, OR, if you're not interested in subtext, an awesome roller-coaster of physical gags, flying through space, and little "corn nuts" (see photo) whacking each other over the head.

The premise is an inversion of your typical children's tale: What if the orphaned children are adopted by the villain instead of the hero? Gru is an old-school Dr. Evil-style "blackmail the world" type villain who is struggling at work. Kind of like Steve Martin in Parenthood, he hasn't noticed that he's slowed down in his middle age: He can't keep up with the new generation of villains who are faster, younger, and hungrier for world domination. Gru travels from one nefarious scheme to another in a chrome-plated, rivet-hulled, rocket-powered hair dryer. Meanwhile, nipping at his heels, is Vector, an overeager puppy of a villain, stealing his thunder in a sleek, white & orange vibrator designed by Apple.
In order to pull off his latest heist, Gru adopts three orphan girls, who make an adorable wreck of his ambitions, while leading him to discover that it's better to be the hero to three little girls than the archenemy to the whole world. As a new dad (our son is eight months old) I got a little teary while Gru was saving the girls' lives during the classic "tightrope between two planes" bit. *I* want to be a hero to my son like Gru was to his daughters in that moment. Obviously I am not looking forward to my boy being abducted by my archenemy, so I can then save him (obviously!), but, I like to think I would walk out on the wing of my superjet to save his life.
My wife and I really appreciated the universality of the movie. I read somewhere that this was a mostly French production, and we noticed the anytime, anyplace nature of the movie. There were almost no pop culture jokes or topical humor. No "inside Hollywood" jokes. No "wisecracking" Borscht belt characters (see: the Donkey in Shrek; Timon in The Lion King.) Most of the fun comes from the "corn nuts" (thanks George): Gur's "Minions" are little yellow worker bees in overalls and goggles who populate Gru's evil underground lair.
The animation had that slick Pixar style, but unlike Pixar, a minimum of show-offy effects which Pixar compulsively includes. We also appreciated that the three orphans were characterized so well with ZERO maudlin saccharine backstory. I have not seen Toy Story 3 yet, but many Pixar movies have a soft spot of treacly tear-jerking moments; Despicable Me keeps he sob-inducing moments to a minimum.
I can't think of anything wrong with this movie- I found the disco dance-off at the end a little underwhelming? The theater was about half child-free couples and half kids; the kids loved the movie, and, speaking for the adults, I gotta give Despicable Me an "A" grade. It's not in the Hall of Fame or anything, but it does its job perfectly well, with laughs, style, grace, and humanity.
(Belmont Studio Cinema "in glorious 2D")